To curb the lucrative illegal trade of amphibians captured in the wild, Ecuador is promoting an "ethical" bio trade of rare, colorful frogs and toads for the global pet market.

View of a Cristal del Sol frog (Hyalinobatrachium aureoguttatum) at the amphibian conservation center Jambatu, in the locality of San Rafael, southeast, Quito on July 4, 2017.
View of a Cristal del Sol frog (Hyalinobatrachium aureoguttatum) at the amphibian conservation center Jambatu, in the locality of San Rafael, southeast, Quito on July 4, 2017.

Poachers in Ecuador have long known the hefty prices their country's rare frogs can fetch.

But now environmentally conscious firms are starting to sell the amphibians in their bid to try and save them from the black market and threatened extinction.

In San Rafael outside the capital Quito, the scientific company Wikiri is raising 12 species of frog.

Some are native only to Ecuador, while others are at risk at disappearing from their natural habitat elsewhere.

View of a 'diablito' frog (Dendrobates sylvaticus) at the amphibian conservation center Jambatu, in the locality of San Rafael, southeast Quito on July 4, 2017. (AFP)
View of a 'diablito' frog (Dendrobates sylvaticus) at the amphibian conservation center Jambatu, in the locality of San Rafael, southeast Quito on July 4, 2017. (AFP)

After being raised in hundreds of terrariums, they are sent to Canada, US, Japan and various European countries for up to $600 each.

That high value "gives you an idea just how profitable frog poaching can be," Lola Guarderas, manager of the facility, said.

To illustrate her point, Guarderas showed a glass frog, with translucent skin through which its organs and beating red heart could be seen, as it moved along the edge of its container.

The frogs are reproduced in labs, so as not to affect local fauna.

They are then put into an "ethical bio-trade" circuit that is the opposite of the poachers' illegal smuggling and sales.

Breakthrough in lab reproduction

Ecuador, a relatively small South American nation, is home to one of the biggest displays of biodiversity on the planet. It holds more than 600 species of frogs, of which nearly half can be found only in the country.

According to Ecuador's environment ministry, 186 of the species are at risk of becoming extinct.

Authorities have banned the capture and sale of all wild animals.

Recently, the Jambatu Center announced something of a breakthrough: the reproduction in captivity for the first time of Atelopus ignescens, or the Quito stubfoot toad.

View of a Jambato toad (Atelopues ignescens) at the amphibian conservation center Jambatu, in the locality of San Rafael, southeast Quito on July 4, 2017. (AFP)
View of a Jambato toad (Atelopues ignescens) at the amphibian conservation center Jambatu, in the locality of San Rafael, southeast Quito on July 4, 2017. (AFP)

The black amphibian used to be widespread in Ecuador's Andean regions but was thought to have become extinct three decades ago until a tiny population was found last year.

Forty-three of the toads were taken to the Jambatu Center which, after several tries, managed to procure 500 tadpoles from one couple.

Illegal trafficking is 'big'

In total, the research facility works on around 40 species typically found in Ecuador or otherwise native to several other South American countries.

Scientists work at the amphibian conservation center Jambatu, in the locality of San Rafael, southeast Quito on July 4, 2017. (AFP)
Scientists work at the amphibian conservation center Jambatu, in the locality of San Rafael, southeast Quito on July 4, 2017. (AFP)

A dozen are offered for export, including the Agalychnis spurrelli, or gliding tree frog; the Cruziohyla calcarifer, or splendid leaf frog, with its striped yellow belly and long legs; and the Hyalinobatrachium aureoguttatum, which has a translucent body dotted with yellow spots.

Around 500 frogs per year are sold, adding to an annual flow from other Latin American countries that amounts to as many as 7,000, sent everywhere in the world.

The hope is to undermine the black market trafficking of the animals.

"Illicit trafficking in amphibians in the world is a very big activity," biologist Luis Coloma, director of the Jambatu Center, said.

According to Ecuador's environment ministry, 18 frog species have already apparently disappeared, robbing the country of some of its rich biodiversity.

Source: AFP